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Personal History

The following was published in September of 2000 at - The Spinoza Net in response to Tim Bagwell's request for submissions on the topic of "Philosophical Reception of Spinoza's ideas as Personal Experience"

The following is an attempt to present my own personal experience with Spinoza's expressed ideas. I will begin by saying that I came to Spinoza through no academic, philosophical, or religious pathway though there may be elements of all three areas involved.

Academically I had spent several years in college studying general engineering, mathematics, physics, and chemistry and had found little use for, nor interest in, other studies. If the things I encountered in life did not involve Mechanics or Mathematics they were meaningless to me. I left the academic environment to pursue a career in software development and though I have had occasion to wonder what might have been different for me had I continued my formal schooling I realize that my personal pursuit of knowledge and understanding has never stopped and it may have even been hindered had I forced myself to follow a prescribed academic path.

Philosophical endeavors seldom captured much of my attention. My earliest direct encounter was reading parts of Plato's Dialogs from a book my parents had on the family bookshelf. I remember thinking at the time that, contrary to what I had hoped to find, these folks were just sitting around talking about "ordinary things." I do remember once while reading about Einstein's theories that I had a profound sense of peace as my mind began to contemplate the Eternal and Infinite Being though at the time this was all just a vague feeling.

Religion never played much of a role in my life though there were times I tried to explore it to greater depth than my Christian "Sunday school" experience had provided. It simply never made sense to me that all the various Christian, Jewish, and Islamic sects could wrangle over their own versions of "God" and make such statements as to suggest that they were somehow "chosen" above all others as God's Favorites. It still makes no sense to me. As far as I know I am a human being like the other six billion or so similar mind/bodies walking around on this pale blue orb and there is, in essence, no difference between us though our external lives vary widely.

So with this background how did I come to value Spinoza's ideas? In the early 1970's I was in my mid-twenties, and having hurried into most of what life seemed to offer -schooling, marriage, career, etc. -I found that nothing satisfied me for long. I seemed to have acquired all that was then available, at least to some degree, and the only course I could envision was to increase my collection of the things that money could buy. Fortunately a driving force within me kept looking for something else though I had no idea what it might be. At the bookstore, I began to branch out from the Mathematics and Physical Sciences sections into other areas. After pouring through many writings that brought glimmers to my mind of "something else" I ran across P.D. Ouspensky's "In Search of the Miraculous". As I began to read this work I felt that it was somehow different from all the others and after getting a little way into it I started reading it again from the beginning. I sensed that there was more to what I had been reading and indeed as I started again I saw new things. Between the pages of the book I had found a bookmark with an invitation to attend meetings of "The xxxxxxx-xxxxxxxxx Group". [Note] I had heard of Gurdjieff before reading Ouspensky's book but Spinoza was unknown to me. I decided to attend open meetings of the group.

The xxxxxxx-xxxxxxxxx Group [Note] had been started in 1969 in Los Angeles, California by a man named xxxxxxx xxxxxx [Note] who had been a student during the 1930's and 40's of Frederick Kettner at The Spinoza Center in New York City.

The xxxxxxx-xxxxxxxxx Group [Note] members were not studying philosophy but rather were learning about and studying their own natures and through that coming to know more directly what Spinoza describes as "Knowledge of the union existing between the mind and the whole of nature." I attended meetings of this group for about a year and though I left for what now seem trivial reasons I continued to study Spinoza's ideas on my own.

Over the years I have read more widely from the various philosophical and religious writings but Spinoza remains for me the primary source for inner guidance and growth. Others may argue academically and abstractly about Spinoza's philosophy even though he warned against abstraction and urged us to focus on our own particular nature. Religious sects may claim him as their own, disown him, or call him an atheist while they seem to pay little attention to his expressed ideas. Regardless of who our ancestors were in the concatenation of things our Essential Nature remains Eternal. By following carefully Spinoza's reasoning and awakening our own intuition we can come to know this for ourselves. He showed us that each individual human being is in essence, an expression of the one Infinite and Eternal Substance. To me, all other things in life are secondary and Spinoza's ideas continue to bring with them the utmost inner joy when I am able to follow them.

I welcome any thoughts on the above subject.
You may send email to:
tneff [at] earthlink [dot] net

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